iRig PRO review – compact audio+MIDI interface for iOS from IK Multimedia

iRig PRO side onWhen it comes to making music on the iOS platform, IK Multimedia have invested some considerable time, effort and resources in developing their range of add-on hardware and apps. With the high-quality, guitarist-friendly, iRig HD launched just a couple of months ago (you can read the Music App Blog review here), IK Multimedia are back with the iRig PRO, a new product that builds on that the iRig HD pedigree.

This time, however, they have taken things a step further – in fact, two steps further – as, in addition to a high quality instrument input, you also get a microphone input with phantom power and MIDI in connectivity. In essence, the iRig PRO is an ultra-compact audio+MIDI interface aimed squarely at the recording iOS musician. So, does it work? With a ‘thank you’ to Paul in IK Multimedia’s UK office for responding to my request and organising the loan of a review unit, it’s time to find out….

Hardware tour

iRig PRO 2

The iRig PRO is compact for mobile music making.

As can be seen from the various images within the text, the iRig PRO hardware forms a very compact unit. It’s slightly chunkier than the iRig HD and this extra size accommodates the combi-XLR/1/4” jack connector and, in the main, the 9V battery that’s requires to provide the extra power required when using a microphone that requires phantom power. The construction quality is similar to the iRig HD; tough plastic casing and all the controls are pretty much flush to the body. Don’t bounce it down a stairwell but if you treat it well, it will be happy enough in your kit bag.

The combi-XLR/instrument jack – itself made by Neutrik, who are no slouches when it comes to quality audio – sits at one end, while the opposite end provides the connector for the iDevice cable. Included in the box are three versions of this cable; 30-pin, Lightning and USB, with the latter providing support for use with a Mac (no Windows support is currently listed).

Also in the box is a standard 9V ‘block’ battery and this sits into the underside of the unit providing power for the 48V phantom power. This is switchable via a recessed switch on the right side of the unit and means you can use condenser microphones with the iRig PRO if you wish. Whatever audio source you have connected to the combi-jack, the large silver Gain knob allows you to adjust your input levels to get a suitable signal into your iOS music apps.

The iRig PRO provides plenty of connectivity options for iOS musicians.

The iRig PRO provides plenty of connectivity options for iOS musicians.

The analog-to-digital (A/D) conversion is at 24-bit and IK Multimedia are keen to point out that the audio hardware is of a very respectable standard so, potentially at least, the iRig PRO ought to be able achieve some excellent audio recordings. I tested the unit with a range of microphones and I have to say that, on the whole, I was very impressed with the results. Providing you take due care of the other elements of the signal chain, in a typical ‘mobile’ music/recording environment, I don’t suspect the iRig PRO is going to be the weak link in your audio chain.

On the left side of the unit is a mini-jack MIDI connector. A cable (about 4ft long) is supplied that has a standard 5-pin MIDI connector at the other end. This allows you to connect up a MIDI keyboard or other MIDI controller and the iRig PRO then provides MIDI in to your iDevice. Do note, however, that there is no MIDI out (not such a big deal as I suspect that most people will just want to hook up a basic MIDI keyboard for playing synths, etc.) and nor does it support MIDI devices that use USB-based MIDI; your MIDI keyboard/controller must have a standard 5-pin MIDI port.

The iRig PRO doesn’t feature audio outputs. You simply use your standard headphone jack output from your iDevice to feed either your headphones or a set of powered monitors (or perhaps a PA?). In practice, this works absolutely fine.

The unit supports phantom power and uses a standard 9V battery to drive this.

The unit supports phantom power and uses a standard 9V battery to drive this.

Given that the unit is so compact, and given that it only features one mono audio input (although that input is very flexible in terms of what can be connected), I suspect the obvious target users might fall into two groups. First, the iRig PRO format would suit the mobile musician who uses their iDevice while on the move, whether that’s for personal practice or developing song ideas.

Second, if you are just setting up your first iOS-based music setup – particularly if you are interested in recording – and your budget is tight, the iRig PRO offers an attractive combination of features. In both cases, the ‘mono-only’ audio format is likely to be less of an issue but the combination of audio+MIDI in a single device is most definitely a big plus, as is the capability to record anything from a guitar up to a studio-class condenser microphone.

iRig PRO in use

If you want to watch a short demo of the iRig PRO in use, then check out the video below.

 

In use, I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by the iRig PRO. Given its compact dimensions and – in audio+MIDI interface terms at least – relatively modest price (the unit is listed for €119.99 here in Europe), it delivers a lot of options, very respectable audio quality and adds little in terms of weight or bulk to your iPad or iPhone-based mobile recording studio. Perhaps in a side-by-side comparison with some of the more upmarket computer-based audio+MIDI interfaces from the likes of Focusrite or Roland or RME and you might begin to detect the difference in audio quality but, as a mobile solution for the iOS musician, the iRig PRO really is an excellent all-round solution.

The iRig PRO will appeal to more than just guitar players; vocalists and keyboard players can also put it to good use.

The iRig PRO will appeal to more than just guitar players; vocalists and keyboard players can also put it to good use.

I didn’t experience any particular issues in terms of getting the iRig PRO to work with a range of iOS music apps. I happily recorded audio in a range of iOS DAWs – Cubasis, Auria and Garageband included – and it worked fine with audio-based apps like Amplitube, JamUp Pro, AmpKit, VocaLive or MIDI-based apps such as Nave, Thor, iElectric or Addictive Synth. In short, almost whatever I threw at it, the iRig PRO just got on with the job and didn’t get in my way.

The only real issue to consider is really one about the design choices IK Multimedia have made. For your own use, is one mono audio channel – albeit one that can take a wide selection of audio sources – adequate for your particular needs? It means you can’t record two different audio sources at the same time or make stereo audio recordings (e.g. two mics on an acoustic guitar or piano) but that might not be such a big deal if this is for personal use by a solo musician. In addition, with only MIDI in, that means you can’t use the iRig PRO to drive external MIDI gear. Again, this is simply a design choice made to deliver the unit to a specific budget; accept it if it doesn’t constrain your own needs or buy something different with a bigger feature set (and probably a bigger price and format).

In summary

In the iRig PRO, IK Multimedia have taken the audio quality of the iRig HD – a unit that is aimed very much at guitar players – and expanded on the feature set to deliver something aimed more directly at the recording iOS musician. The ‘PRO does what the HD does but then adds MIDI input and the support for phantom powered microphones. If you are happy with just a single audio input channel, this is about as compact as it gets in terms of a dedicated audio+MIDI interface solution for iOS recording.

There are some very respectable audio+MIDI interfaces out there that are not a million miles away from the iRig PRO in terms of price but, given the compact format, the fact that it doesn’t require an external power source (some USB interfaces you can use with the iPad/iPhone do) and the very decent audio quality, for the solo (and mobile) musician using their iDevice as a song scratchpad or mobile demo studio, the iRig PRO is a tempting proposition.

From a design perspective, I think IK Multimedia have got this just about spot on – it might not meet everyone’s needs, particularly if you want to make stereo/two-channel audio recordings but, with a good balance between features, audio quality, portability and price, if the iRig PRO doesn’t sell to iOS musicians by the bucket-load, then I’ll be very surprised.

 

You can order the iRig PRO directly from IK Multimedia or from online stores including Amazon.

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    Comments

    1. Have you try this iRig-Pro on POD-Mobile..??
      Thx..

    2. Can’t seem to use Irig key pro using wifi Bluetooth speakers it works fine using cord from iPhone headphone to speaker

    3. Phoenix says:

      Nice piece, thank you. Can the unit send midi and audio to an ipad at the same time? Or can it do either but only one at a time? I can’t seem to find any information that makes this clear! If it can do both it becomes an ideal songwriting scratchpad tool, playing from a midi keyboard into GarageBand or Auria and one of their virtual instruments, while singing along through the audio channel. If not, it might be more limited to playing in ideas that have already been scratchpadded.

      • Hi Phoenix….. it can do both at the same time….. Keep your eyes peeled though because I think IKM have a new version of this unit almost ready for launch…. http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/irigproio/ – and with an improved spec…. Not sure if the current unit will stay in the product line with a price difference between the two…. Best wishes, John

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